How to Access Network Resources Over a VPN - Page 2

By Ronald Pacchiano
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Once you’ve got the IP address of the computer you want to connect to, just follow these steps:

  1. Open Windows Explorer (Start>All Programs>Accessories>Windows Explorer)
  2. On the menu at the top, click Tools (If the menu bar is not visible click Organize>Layout>Menu Bar)
  3. Select Map Network Drive
  4. Assign it a drive letter. It could be any available drive letter, but for our example we’ll use Z:.
  5. On the folder line enter the IP address and share name; example, \ and click Finish. Note - If you’re going to use this share on a regular basis, be sure to select the Reconnect at Logon option.

That's it, now drive Z: is connected to the VPN_Projects folder, and you’ll have full access to all the files and folders contained in it.

If you don’t want to memorize the IP addresses of your network devices, you can create an LMHOSTS file and place it on your client PC. An LMHOSTS file is a static table that resolves a host name to an IP address and assists with remote NetBIOS name resolution.

To create an LMHOSTS file you must open Notepad and enter the IP address and name of all of your network devices (PCs, printers, etc.) and the extension #PRE. Following any entry in the file with the characters #PRE will cause the entry to be preloaded into the name cache for faster resolution.

An example of the contents of an LMHOSTS file would be:

  •   VPN-HOST  #PRE
  •   HP3550     #PRE

In this example, the first entry is our VPN-Host PC and the other is our network printer. After you make the appropriate changes to the file, save it as: LMHOSTS. DO NOT use any file extension. This is important because sometimes Notepad places a .TXT extension to the end of a document you’ve created, which in this case would prevent the file from functioning properly.

Copy the LMHOSTS file to the C:Windowssystem32driversetc folder on the VPN client computer and reboot the system. The client can then use the syntax \ComputerNameShareName to access shared folders on the remote network (ex. \VPN-HOSTVPN_Projects).

How to print remotely with a VPN

Setting up the capability to access a printer attached to the Host PC (or even to a regular network printer) is very similar to setting up a shared folder. Let’s begin.

  1. Log into your Host PC using an account with administrative privileges and click Start > Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center.
  2. Go to the Sharing and Discovery section and click on the down arrow next to the word Printer sharing
  3. Select Turn on printer sharing and press Apply.

Now you can access a remote printer. All you need to do now is configure it on the client PC. First, make sure you have either the Port name or the IP address of your printer. Like the PC, it’s always best to use static IP addresses for network devices whenever possible. Otherwise you run the risk of the device not working one day because its address changed unexpectedly. 

  1. Go to Start > Control Panel > Printers
  2. At the top of the window press the Add a printerbutton.
  3. At the Add Printer dialog box select Add a network, wireless or Bluetooth printer and press Next.
  4. You should see a message that reads, No printers were found. Select the option The printer that I want isn’t listed.
  5. On the next screen click, Add a printer using a TCP/IP address or hostname, and press Next.
  6. Enter the printer’s IP address on the line labeled Hostname or IP address and make sure the option Query the printer and automatically select the driver to use is checked. Press Next when finished.

At this point the PC client will automatically go out to the network to retrieve the printer driver and configure it for use with your system. It might ask you to name it, ask if it should be the default printer and print a test page. Once completed, click Finished, and your printer is now setup and ready to go!

How to access a remote desktop over a VPN

A VPN connection also makes certain Vista features, such as Remote Desktop, much easier to use. With Remote Desktop you can use, for example, your home computer to access your office PC as if you were sitting right in front of it – with access to all of your programs, files, and other network resources (like external hard drives and printers) without having to configure any specific folders or user permissions.

Typically setting up Remote desktop to function over the Internet can be EXTREMELY problematic. Yet, you can have it can be up and running over the VPN in just a few clicks. The only caveat to Remote Desktop is that the machine you want to access remotely (a.k.a. the host) has to be running Vista Business, Enterprise or Ultimate Edition. The PC used to access the host system (a.k.a. the client) can be running Windows XP or any version of Vista.

You'll find detailed setup and configuration guidance for Remote Desktop in this August 2008 article entitled, From a Distance: Your Vista System Made Accessible.

This concludes our discussion on setting up a Virtual Private Network. Remember that these three columns only represent a small number of the benefits and cost savings you can realize from implementing VPN technology. For more extensive and robust solutions, you should seek the help and guidance of a qualified IT professional. Until next month, good luck!

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for SmallBusinessComputing.com.

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This article was originally published on January 06, 2009
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